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Morning tip: It's safe to say Wizards have turned corner

Morning tip: It's safe to say Wizards have turned corner

The start to the 2016-17 season couldn't have been worse. Losing eight of 10 is never good, but the Wizards' biggest free-agent acquistion sat after the biggest free-agent fish in the market they'd targeted for two years wouldn't even consent to a meeting.

It's easy to pile on and declare that it's over -- even with 72 games left -- and start the bonfire. But that's not the behavior of a smart team if it truly believes in the pieces it has in place to succeed. They weather the storm. 

There were musings such as the case for trading John Wall, a podcast from Bill Simmons about the franchise needing to go into tank mode and a declaration that the Wizards are dead

After a ripping of the Atlanta Hawks 112-86 on their own floor Friday to improve to 26-20, how ridiculous does all of that sound in hindsight?  They've won 14 in a row at Verizon Center, have the season series edge over the Hawks (2-1), Boston Celtics (2-1), Charlotte Hornets (2-0), Chicago Bulls (2-1), New York Knicks (2-0), have clinched it with the Milwaukee Bucks (3-1) and are even with the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers (1-1).

Don't be mistaken, players wondered out loud what was happening during those early-season fails, too, especially after losing Nov. 16 at the Philadelphia 76ers who didn't have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jahlil Okafor playing on a minutes restriction.

But when a team is down, espeically this one with their recent history of ups and downs, proclaiming they're finished is the predictable next step. The easiest job in sports is that of an armchair front office expert. Like playing online poker with fake currency, there's no real pressure involved if you bust out.

Wall isn't going anywhere while he's still under contract. To suggest the Wizards trade him is absurd because he makes all of those around him better. Don't give Bradley Beal that $128 million extension as opposed to what? Letting a 23-year-old leave for nothing in return? So how would that improve the team? Replace him with Dwyane Wade who was the next best player on the market at his position? Exactly how is Wade, who can't shoot threes and is on his last legs at 35, working out in Chicago?

After the Wizards whiffed on Kevin Durant who chose to join an already stacked team in the Golden State Warriors, Ian Mahinmi's signing still came as a surprise. That the backup center only has played 14 minutes this season, his lack of availability been a major disappointment. The next biggest acqusition, Andrew Nicholson, has been reduced to playing mostly garbage minutes like he did in Atlanta. 

Pending the next tests on Mahinmi, he could be back after All-Star break to fortify the second unit behind Marcin Gortat which would make the Wizards so much better defensively. Trey Burke and Jason Smith are playing light years better. Tomas Satoransky, a 2012 draft pick in his first season, is back in the rotation and providing valuable time on the floor with Burke. And Kelly Oubre, who the Wizards traded up to draft in 2015, isn't a bust no more than Otto Porter who needed time to develop. 

[RELATED: Wizards' Bradley Beal an NBA All-Star snub]

Markieff Morris, who was acquired for what turned into a No. 13 pick in a weak 2016 draft for an average of $8 million a year through 2019, is playing the best basketball of his career. Gortat is a double-double machine who is playing his best since being acquired by the Wizards in a 2013 trade. The Wizards' starting five is as strong as any in the East outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers but a Mirza Teletovic over Nicholson or a Courtney Lee over Marcus Thornton would be worth a few more wins.

They key to what has been working is Wall and Beal and how first-year coach Scott Brooks has molded them into an elite backcourt once again. A lot of veterans were allowed to walk, in part, because president Ernie Grunfeld wanted to create a different chemistry. It became a matter of did Wall and Beal lack the leadership quality, or were they not allowed to put their imprint on the team as they saw fit? They have that freedom and confidence to do so and are having career-best seasons as a result. 

Supposedly, Brooks was an isolation coach after his time in Oklahoma City. There's no isolation ball in D.C. He's gone away from predictable high pick-and-roll between Wall and Gortat and has opted for more motion, cross-screening, area and flare screening to space the floor for shooters. That's why Porter is the NBA's leader in three-point percentage. And it's why Oubre is flourishing at catch-and-shoot situations. 

Brooks has convinced Porter not to always cut to keep the lane open for Wall and Beal to attack. He has used Porter more as a "stretch" option with Oubre as the small forward. He has had Burke and Satoransky share ball-handling duties with the second unit to take the pressure off of them both and they've responded. He has put Morris on the floor to start the second and fourth quarters to give it stability and so he can take advantage of backups at his position. He has put the 6-7 Oubre, with his 7-2 wingspan, on point guards.

Brooks tried to make Nicholson and Thornton work in his rotations, perhaps more than he should've, then didn't hesitate in changing gears unlike previous coach Randy Wittman. His five-year deal he signed for $35 million is proving to be a bargain. 

Where this all ends up is anyone's guess. And that's what it really is -- guesswork -- with some of it being more educated than others. 

No matter the parts, Brooks has cultivated a unit that plays hard, intelligently and he takes advantage of everyone's strengths.

This is no declaration that the season is a success because there are a lot of games left and they're only one significant injury away from trending in the other other direction. Finally, however, it can be said the Wizards have an identity, an attitude (see the "funeral game" vs. Boston), can handle pressure, prosperity and talk of a top four seed in the East now is a worthwhile discussion.

So much for trading the face of the franchise or tanking. An enormous responsibility would come with such a decision -- the opposite of a hot take.

[RELATED: Wizards outline plan for Mahinmi, aren't looking to add big man]

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Watch Rui Hachimura’s shutdown block

Watch Rui Hachimura’s shutdown block

Rui Hachimura continued his dominance in international friendlies Saturday as he put up 31 points and five rebounds in a winning effort over Germany.

After a highlight-reel performance in Thursday's loss to Argentina, Hachimura was back at it two days later.

That block at the 37-second mark is just filthy. It would also be goaltending in the NBA, but FIBA rules allow players to touch the ball at pretty much any time once it's made contact with some part of the hoop. Nevertheless, the athleticism to make this play is what stands out.

But Hachimura wasn't finished.

He looks more like Steph Curry leading that breakaway, dribbling behind his back and finishing at the rim himself than a 6-foot-8 forward.

With the international friendly schedule at its end, Japan will tip off the 2020 FIBA World Cup on Sunday, Sept. 1 against Turkey. After a matchup with the Czech Republic, Hachimura and Japan will take on his future NBA opponents when they face the United States on Sept. 5.


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Maryland native Quinn Cook tells the behind-the-scenes story of his road to the Lakers

Maryland native Quinn Cook tells the behind-the-scenes story of his road to the Lakers

Before he joined the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a blockbuster summer that saw them land Anthony Davis, before he won the NBA Finals as a role player with the Golden State Warriors, and before he averaged double-digit scoring and won the NCAA tournament at Duke, Quinn Cook was a star point guard at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md.

Cook was in town this week for his fourth annual youth basketball camp at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover. NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller sat down with the former Stag, who he’s known since the now-Lakers guard was 14 years old, on the Wizards Talk podcast.

Miller talked with Cook about why he feels connected to kids in the local community and what it was like losing his father as a teenager. One of his closest friends is fellow DeMatha product Victor Oladipo, who helped him get through the loss of his father Ted when he died suddenly in 2008 after going into a coma following a colon procedure.

“My best friend Norman and Victor, their parents took them out of school, and they were with me for two weeks,” Cook said. “At the funeral, [head coach Mike] Jones had the entire DeMatha basketball program…come to the funeral and all sit together [with] their uniforms on.”

Cook also went on to talk about his time at Duke, the viral video in which he convinced some people at the mall he was J Cole and his obsession with winning before going into how he landed in Los Angeles this offseason.

“When Golden State withdrew their qualifying offer, I became unrestricted and had some teams call me and the Lakers thing, it just happened quick,” Cook said. “I had talks with them, AD called me, [LeBron James] called Rob Palinka for me, and Coach K called them, talked to Bron and stuff and we got it done.”

Check out the full podcast below and listen to Miller talk hoops every week on the Wizards Talk podcast.